Karin’s Leadership Articles

5 Ways To Define Your Seat At The Table

by | Aug 15, 2013 | By Karin Hurt, Career & Learning |

You’ve finally got a seat at the table, but your chair feels uncomfortably small. Perhaps you’re sitting in for your boss, or holding an acting assignment. You’ve got an amazing opportunity to impact and influence. Couple your authentic power with a more powerful chair, you’ll be unstoppable. Lead with your whole heart and head.

A Bigger Seat at the Table

A careful approach will improve your influence, impact, and career.

  1. Understand the norms – However silly they may seem, there are likely norms. Approach the scene like kids playing jump rope on a playground. Watch the rope spin a few times before jumping in. How does communication flow? Is there a seating arrangement? Don’t let a silly mishap leave you looking like the rookie.
  2. Do your homework – Knowledge inspires confidence (in you and from them). Carefully review agendas in advance. Talk to your peers to get up to speed on unfamiliar topics. Prepare beyond expectations. Hustle. Learn what you must to lead effectively in this context.
  3. get a seat at the table

  4. Stakeholder your big ideas – If you’re just sitting in for a meeting, talk to your boss about using this as an opportunity to bring up that new idea. If it’s a longer term gig, you’ll have a window to showcase even more capabilities. Take time to stakeholder your ideas offline one-on-one with opinion leaders. Ask them to help you fine-tune your thinking and presentation. You will feel more confident, and the idea will sell better, with a few key supporters.
  5. Speak up – Leaders often waste their seat at the table. Sure they take good notes, and report back, but they don’t influence. You have great insights. Share your truth. Resist the urge to just nod in agreement.
  6. Build deeper relationships – However temporary, a seat at the table is a great way to build deep connections. Build relationships and professional intimacy with your temporary peers. Let them know who you are and what you value. Be extraordinarily helpful.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Ali Anani (@alianani15)

    Karin- a temporary seat is a transient one and it could swing the wrong way, if can. To make it swing to the right direction no silly mistakes must be done for there is no time to correct for them. You explained this beautifully. Knowing what not to do is critical. Listening to others with passion, talking when necessary and making meaningful contributions shall then have a greater impact because other people have already accepted you. No matter what contribution a person makes it shall not be accepted if the words come out from a rejected personality..

  2. letsgrowleaders

    Ali, Thanks so much for so consistently expanding the conversation. I have seen this go both ways, so as you say, it’s so important to control the “swing.”

  3. David Tumbarello

    I am reminded of the cliche “freedom and responsibility.” At the table, one is free to either make a good show or to a make bad impression. Unfortunately, usually what people – including myself – often remember is the negative, or bad impression (thanks Ali for pointing out this is an option). Responsibility is the other part of the equation. Sitting at “the table” one is responsible – to the enterprise, to the team, to individuals on the team, and to oneself. Ask, “How can I best serve this [team] with my contribution right now?” The answer might sometimes be silence, and at other times might be substance. Your post points out successful ways of negotiating new territory, which is a best practice for ultimately bringing substance.

    • letsgrowleaders

      David, Great addition. Bigger chairs bring awesome responsibility.

  4. Matt McWilliams


    This is a powerful post.

    I think it starts with the view of what this meeting means…it could literally mean career transformation. No pressure. Seriously, that doesn’t mean pressure, it means opportunity!

    Consider yourself blessed to have the chance to have a seat at the table.

    That’s the first step…then you’ve got it covered.

    Avoid extremes:

    Don’t act like you own the room.

    Don’t act like the room owns you.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Matt, such important additions. Yes! “consider yourself blessed to have a seat at the table.” One of our favorite family songs in “how lucky you are,” from Seussical (we’ve been involved in various productions in various ways)… that feeling is a beautiful start. Avoid extremes… what a beautiful way you articulate. Let it be so.

  5. Jim Ryan

    I like to ask challenging or leading questions that drive the conversation. I try to avoid just making statements, which often just fall flat.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Jim, perfect! Questions get folks talking… that’s leadership.

  6. LaRae Quy

    Yep, this has always worked for me: “Take time to stakeholder your ideas offline one-on-one with opinion leaders. Ask them to help you fine-tune your thinking and presentation.” Bringing up your ideas off-line with an opinion leader is a great way of not only cultivating that relationship but also of getting the “lay of the land.” Great advice.

  7. letsgrowleaders

    LaRae, Thanks so much. I find that works in so many contexts particularly when the topic’s controversial.

  8. Terri Klass

    This is such an empowering post, Karin for leaders to think about and your no nonsense strategies are perfect! Once the opportunity comes our way to get to that table, it is so important to make sure we are prepared and armed with information. Actively listening at first is a technique I always find works well so one does not come off as a “know-it-all”. Then preparing one or two insightful statements or questions can really go a long way to finding our voice. When we leave we want to know we have contributed in some way- big or small. Thanks!

    • letsgrowleaders

      Terri, So great to see you here. I fully agree…listen, listen some more and then say something that truly adds to the conversation.

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